I see definition of liquid like this:

a substance that flows freely but is of constant volume, having a consistency like that of water or oil. "drink plenty of liquids"

I don’t understand why liquid considered plural, while water not.

  • 1
    Because there's more than one kind of liquid. Tea, water, coffee, soda pop, exercise drinks, electrolyte fluids, etc.
    – TimR
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 12:39
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo Interesting interpretative. Perhaps it’s just a set phrase, but I’m hesitant to endorse the types explanation because the admonition isn’t to drink plenty of types of liquids - it’s to drink a large quantity, irrespective of type.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 14:32
  • 1
    I think the admonition is to stay hydrated by drinking whatever combination of hydrating beverages you prefer. This "set phrase" explanation doesn't hold water.
    – TimR
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 15:14
  • Do you mean why can liquid be used as a count noun to create a plural form liquids, whereas words for particular liquids like water or milk normally cannot?
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 15:38
  • I also think the implication is that these liquids are also consumed at distinctly different times. "Drink plenty of liquid," implies a command to continuously drink one long draught of a lot of liquid. "Drink plenty of liquids," is more consistent with a command to drink many discrete glasses of liquid that collectively add up to a lot of total liquid. Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 18:42

2 Answers 2


I think you may have looked at the definition from the Oxford Dictionary. It's a bit weird (and confusing) in that it gives the plural of liquids in its first example sentence when the headword is singular.



substance that flows freely but is of constant volume, having a consistency like that of water or oil.

‘drink plenty of liquids’

‘First, you should always drink plenty of liquids (water is the best).’

The word liquids does include lots of types of "wet stuff", and of these water is but one choice. The inference in the first example is that you drink distinct glasses/cups/bottles over a period of time.

And it is possible to have a plural of waters but it's fairly specialised!

The waters of a mineral spring can be used medicinally for bathing in or drinking.

‘You can take the waters at the Pump Room.’

  • I agree that maybe it is referred to cups of liquid – in the same manner as light bulb (lights).
    – user67265
    Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 6:37

The OED defines the noun liquid in terms of the adjective:

A liquid substance (see A. 1a). In pl[ural] often = liquid food.

What's interesting is that, idiomatically, liquids is shorthand for liquid food (presumably including water). I don't know of a satisfying answer for why this shorthand came about, but the important thing is that plenty of liquids simply means plenty of liquid food. Therefore, liquids isn't actually plural as used, but a mass noun created from a plural.

Even though plenty can modify mass nouns as well as a plural nouns (plenty of air, plenty of noise), this construction does prime the reader to think of liquids as plural. It may help to realize that, although this is a common phrase, it is not itself an idiom, and this sense of liquids is commonly used in other contexts; for instance, a sick person might only be able to consume liquids.

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